There are a special breed of authors who are also illustrators. They create things like graphic novels, or children’s and YA fiction, and the beautiful thing about designing their author-illustrator websites is that there is so much visual material to work with!
One of the challenges of designing websites for authors of novels or non-fiction is that unless photography or art is part of the story, there’s lots of text (descriptions, excerpts, reviews, etc..) but a lack of visual content. You can, of course, creatively come up with ways to break up the text with relevant images, interesting use of typography, and color, but author-illustrators have an advantage in that their content is visual.
Often when an author-illustrator approaches me about working with them to design their new website, they point to example sites they enjoy that fall well outside the way most websites operate. For example, they use confusing, unique, and impenetrable navigation menus based on icons or graphics, or they simply don’t have much text at all so it’s very difficult to know what you’re looking at or what you should do next to follow that person on social media or buy their books. I acknowledge the appeal of creating something unique, especially when your job is to create visual storytelling that people haven’t seen before. But the place to do that is in your books, not on your website. And here’s why:
The more unique and complicated you make your website, the more difficult/expensive it will be to update it. Most people who have made a career out of doing a particular kind of work regularly update their websites with new work, new links, new content, etc… and you don’t want to have that be something you end up not doing because it’s simply too difficult. It’s much more important that your site remains up-to-date and relevant.
The audience for your website includes your fans, who might briefly be impressed with how cool your website is, but then they leave your site because there’s no clear way to join your mailing list, or follow you on Instagram, or learn more about your next project. Not to mention the people who visit your website because they’d like you to appear at their event (like a school visit), or they want to write about your work, or easily contact you about a future project are also part of your website’s audience and you want it to be as easy as possible for them to find what they need quickly, without having to think about it.
Just because you’re using a traditional navigation menu, and a vertically-scrolling content layout doesn’t mean your website needs to be boring — far from it! So how do you use that to its best advantage without creating a headache for yourself when it comes to maintaining and updating your site?
You layer your illustrations throughout the site as background elements, stand-alone images, and site design elements (eg: buttons) that create an immersive, branded atmosphere that’s unique to you.
You create a visual throughline using color or style that ties the whole site together. Often, especially across the span of an illustrator’s career, there are multiple projects, each with their own palette and style, but you can use visual cues to bring all of them together into a cohesive whole.
You find a way to feature your latest, or upcoming project so that it is the current star of the show. Perhaps there’s a place for a prominent illustration right at the top of your Home page, or in your website’s footer, and you can integrate the background of the illustration into the background of the site so that it appears integrated and not just in its own row.
Your author website exists for a purpose, and that is to be working for you 24/7 to help you further connect with your fans, make new fans, sell your books, and further your career. You can, of course, decide that creating a really unique and unusual website is really important to you, and budget accordingly, (warning: brutal honesty ahead) but know that decision is based on what makes you happy, and not necessarily what will work best for your audience or what will serve you best in the long run for your career.
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